Arlington, 6 Sept 1858


My dearest Nephew,


            I recd with much pleasure your long interesting & kind letter from Damascus. Because it has not before been acknowledged, do not think it was not properly appreciated. I like you have not been stationary. But unlike you, my journies have not been over classic ground, nor have my steps been directive by objects of interest & celebrity. The frequent calls of business have kept me much in motion, & during the periods of my return here, I have had so many things pressing upon my attention, that though you were never forgotten. I was always tempted to defer writing in the hope of having sufficient time for a comfortable conversation. The result has not been in accordance with my expectations, so I have sat down to enjoy such communion with you as I can.  I have followed with much interest your travels in the East not only as described in your letter to me, but as detailed in a series to your father, which when in Baltimore the last time he kindly gave me to read. Though the impressions of the traveller through that vast & ancient region, are different from those derived from journeys through brighter & more prosperous countries, they carry with them their pleasure & profit too. They can not be experienced elsewhere, & they teach the lesson of life, that there is nothing stable on earth, & what man must strive for is truth & virtue. We see too places consecrated by the most important events in the history of the world. Compare their present with their former state & from the past foretell their ‘future.’ I am glad you have had an opportunity of visiting them.  Have enjoyed all the benefits they are calculated to produce, & are now in a newer & more vigorous world.  When you shall have ceased from your travels, you will be more content to remain in quiet & enjoy the reflections & experience you have gathered in your wanderings.  I hope your body will have been strengthened as will as your mind & that you will have been taught the important lesson how to take care of & nourish both. I have not heard from your father since his return to Baltimore from Berkeley. I hope he has been renovated by his summer tour, as he has tried both the Sea Shore & mountain air.  Indeed I have recd no letter from him since his first arrival at Cape May, & have only heard of him through Mary’s letters to my daughters. I have gathered from them that he has been as well as usual, but fear he has not derived the benefit I had hoped. You know Mary has so much that is bright to relate, that she has but little space to devote to the serious. You no doubt have received regular accounts from himself, & are better acquainted with his present condition than I am. When I have been with him I have been distressed by his accounts of his rheumatism, or gout, or perhaps their combination.  But you know he bears his pains so quietly, & devotes himself so cheerfully to those around him, that you would never suspect except from his relation, the amount of his sufferings. Mary from her letters must have passed a very pleasant summer & has been as well as she has been happy.  I have no doubt both are now happy to enjoy the quiet of their home in B[altimore]. As to myself I am all alone.  I carried your Aunt Mary about a month since to the Hot Springs in the mountains of Virga & remained with her as long as I could & until I found she was progressing favorable under the influence of the baths, I say favorably for the baths sometimes produce unfavorable effects, & though she had recd no great benefit, some slight amelioration of her disease was apparent when I left her, & sufficient to excite hope of greater. She had many friends & some relations by her & Annie to take care of her, so I hope she will not suffer during my compulsory absence. I shall return to her in a week or two or perhaps sooner. Mary has been in Baltimore nursing her Aunt Anne while the Judge& Florence were compelled to resort to the Alleghanies for the renewal of their strength. They have returned now, & when I last heard of M. she was preparing to go to Winchester for the benefit of Country air. Agnes & the younger children are at Ravensworth[1] with Mrs. Fitzhugh. The former seems to have no fondness for our Virginia summer resorts, & the latter having experienced their restraint the last two summers, begged they might not again be sacrificed. Agnes I believe too wished to visit some of her young cousins & schoolmates. Custis you know is in California[2] & Fitzhugh on his way to Oregon. Now you see the reason why I am all alone.  As Soon I can get them all back, that is those on this side the Rocky Mts: I must prepare for my departure to Texas. I have been away a long time from my military duties, & though I have not accomplished all I wished, I feel that I ought to return.  It will be sad to leave them to themselves, & with the apprehension that they may want many things I could procure for them, yet there is no help for it, I will trust them to the care of a kind Providence, who has hitherto upheld them & protected them. Robert will have to return to his school in Oct: So they will even be deprived of his feeble arms. And now my dear Nephew having finished this family record. I have done. All public matters you derive more fully & speedily from our daily journals than I could give you, & you have there the advantage of selecting such topics as are most interesting to you. Of your friends in Baltimore your fathers letters I know keep you well advised. Your Uncles Carter & Smith are both well. The former is at his home & the latter with his wife & two younger sons are visiting their relatives in Va: I will therefore bid you farewell & with prayers for your health & welfare.

I am humbly & faithfully your,

R E Lee


Source: The Archives of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Papers of the Lee Family, Box 3, M2009.239, Jessie Ball DuPont Library, Stratford Hall.


Transcription revised by Colin Woodward, 2015 September 15


[1] Ravensworth plantation was built in 1796 in Fairfax County. It was the home of William Fitzhugh, William Henry Fitzhugh, Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis, and William Henry Fitzhugh Lee. The home burned on 1926 August 1. In 1957, the property was sold to a developer.

[2] Custis was by then in the United States army’s Corps of Engineers, where he spent time in California, Georgia, and Florida.